Yesterdaze: What are the odds?

On an international day of anonymous gift-giving, James Elliott looks at some anonymous gift-giving of our own and places some bets

It’s Valentine’s Day, the day on which we celebrate the bloody beating and beheading of the Roman priest Valentine in 270 AD by sending people anonymous expressions of affection and gifts. It’s basically socially sanctioned stalking, as actively aided and abetted by retailers like florists, chocolatiers and sellers of Hallmark cards.

It all sounds like jolly good fun and only a little bit creepy but as any politician will tell you, and as two active Serious Fraud Office investigations into political donations illustrate, the receiving of gifts, anonymous or otherwise, can be quite problematic.

Just ask Winston Peters. One of the two SFO investigations relates to claims that NZ First funnelled monetary donations through the secretive NZ First Foundation to avoid public disclosure as required under the Electoral Act. And just to clarify, the foundation’s name is not the “Secretive NZ First Foundation”, it’s just mandatory in all media reporting to describe it as the secretive NZ First Foundation.

Things became a little less secretive this week when the story grew legs, and hooves, it being revealed that a number of those donations came from the horse racing industry. As it happens, quite coincidentally, and wow what are the odds of that happening? - Winston Peters is also the Racing Minister. Or rather Winston is still the Racing Minister as there were calls during the week for him to step down or be stood down pending the outcome of the SFO investigation.

When the story broke on Wednesday, the odds of Winston standing down as Racing Minister were about 4 to 1. By Thursday, as the PM dithered, relentlessly positively, but dithered nonetheless, those odds went out to 10 to 1.

Things became a little less secretive this week when the story grew legs, and hooves, it being revealed that a number of those donations came from the horse racing industry. As it happens, quite coincidentally, and wow what are the odds of that happening? - Winston Peters is also the Racing Minister.

By Thursday evening you could take a bet on the double of Winston staying as Racing Minister and Shane Jones winning Northland in September’s election at odds of 20 to 1. And today you can bet on the treble of Winston staying as Racing Minister, Shane Jones winning Northland and Jami Lee Ross winning Botany to hold the balance of power in the 53rd Parliament on the evening of Saturday, September 19 at odds of a bazillion to 1.  

If you’re thinking that news of an SFO investigation into donations to NZ First is familiar, you’re right. This is very much déjà two, as there was an SFO investigation into donations to NZ First in 2008. The difference is that in 2008 Winston stood down as Foreign Minister before he was pushed by Helen Clark pending the outcome of that SFO investigation. However, a lot has changed since 2008 – the SFO now has a special filing cabinet just for political party donations investigations and Winston has heard about Facebook. Rather than face a media grilling over the latest revelations, Winston opted to give his side of the story via a Facebook live session, the political and media equivalent of self-isolating. When it was all over after about 10 minutes, the general consensus was that we hadn’t learned anything new in the time it takes, coincidentally, to run three Melbourne Cups.

We also haven’t learned anything new this week about the SFO investigation into donations deposited into a National Party electorate office account, and the resulting charges against the currently name-suppressed Fiddly Four. However it will be interesting to see which outcome from the two SFO investigations will be the more serious for those involved. I’m punting on a quinella in the SFO High Stakes Stakes that the National donations investigation will pip the secretive NZ First Foundation investigation by a very long nose.       

While we’re waiting for more detail on both matters I think we’ve already learned that the laws on political donations aren’t working and are in desperate need of reform. Fortunately there’s already a well-established and scandal-free fund-raising model that all New Zealanders are familiar with and that could be readily adapted for political fund-raising purposes – the hardware store sausage sizzle. Not only that, political parties could adopt and tweak their sizzle hosts’ slogans for their upcoming election campaigns. For example, Labour will try and re-launch the much-maligned KiwiBuild initiative with a vague promise at their Bunnings BBQ where – “Lowest House Prices Are Just the Beginning”. National will be around the corner at Mitre 10 where “The Top 20 percent of You’ll Come Out Better Off”. The Greens will be offered a prime sizzling spot at PlaceMakers but won’t be able to agree on what to cook or how to cook it.

And NZ First will buck the hardware trend in favour of a popular retail spot where they won’t have to change their host’s slogan at all. So keep an eye out for a somewhat secretive sausage sizzle at Briscoes where “You’ll Never Buy Better”.  

Have a peaceful weekend.                                                                      

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